Taking the Edge Off an Elderly Person’s Loneliness


By Cheryl Edwards-Cannon

Jigsaw puzzle pieces. They are just little bitty things made of cardboard. But in the right hands they’re a marvelous way to help take the edge off of an elderly person’s loneliness.

I discovered the beauty of jigsaw puzzles when my parents lived in a retirement community. Over time, I noticed that many of their fellow residents didn’t have family members who came to visit. And, because I’m someone who hates to see the elderly suffer from loneliness, I began to set up jigsaw puzzles for my folks and invite others to come along.

Before long, two distinct groups of women with differing abilities had coalesced around me. The first group of these “jigsaw gals” were very cognitively aware and super-organized. I took my marching orders from them as they established specific roles for each member of the group. Some ladies sorted pieces; others were assigned to a specific zone of the puzzle.

The second group of women (and a few men) had some diminishment of their cognitive abilities but were no less interested in participating. For this group, it became clear that the primary function was social. So, I made sure that there was an amply sized table so everyone could sit around it, making conversation easy. In this group some members chose to simply watch, and that was sufficient for them. My dad was one of the onlookers and occasionally would grab a piece at random with the pronouncement where it should go.  Sometimes, he was correct!

Staff at the retirement community told me how wonderful it was that the residents had a specific activity to look forward to each week

The staff at the retirement community told me how wonderful it was that the residents had a specific activity to look forward to each week. They also shared that it seemed to help some residents to regulate their sleep a bit—that it was something to “help them wind down” for the day. For my part, I kept things interesting by creating themed puzzle activities and paying attention to when the group could move from larger puzzle pieces to more complex ones. We finally worked our way up to a 2000-piece puzzle!

My parents have both passed on, and as I look back on that time, I realize what a gift it was to share them (and puzzles) with so many others. We built a lovely little community of puzzle-solvers with people who had (sadly) often been relegated to spending time alone in their rooms. And I received the greatest gift of all—the satisfaction of doing God’s work.

Perhaps you know and elderly person who could use a bit of activity that breaks up an otherwise routine day? It doesn’t have to be a jigsaw puzzle. It can be a phone call, a text or a small “gift package” dropped off to show that you care.

About the author – Cheryl Edwards-Cannon holds a certificate in Gerontology and is the owner of Clear Path Choices, a consultancy that helps families provides direction and support for families facing elderly care challenges. She is the author of Taking Care of Miss Bee Bee and her writing has been featured in three Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. Learn more at: www.clearpathchoices.com.

Want more stories like these? Check out our archives on being a friend to the elderly.

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